Do Doctoral Students Need Life Coaching?

The short answer is YES. Doctoral students need life coaching.

The longer answer is probably. Although every student’s journey is unique, there are common obstacles that can be addressed with life coaching.

Before we talk about why doctoral students need life coaching, let’s define what is life coaching.

What is life coaching?

The life coaching industry is exploding right now, and for good reason. Coaching helps the client identify what’s going on in their brain so the client can see where they are stuck and what needs to change to reach their goals. Better than a friend, a life coach will hold space for the client, share the hard-to-hear truths, and believe in the client unconditionally.

Some differences between a life coach and a therapist

Life coaches and therapists have distinct roles and serve different purposes. Therapists are licensed to treat mental health conditions such as anxiety and mood disorders, addiction, and all other diagnosable conditions. Treatment may focus on healing past traumas. Adherence to an ethical code of conduct and governmental regulations is required of all therapists.

Life coaches work with functioning individuals to achieve personal and professional goals, attain greater fulfillment, and improve their day-to-day lives. Coaches help clients grow beyond their barriers to create a desired future. Compliance with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and other governmental regulations do not apply to life coaches. Working with a life coach should never be considered as a substitute for getting mental health treatment. However, a life coach can be a great addition to your support team in certain circumstances.

Why doctoral students need a life coach

Life coaches help clients navigate major life changes. Entering a doctorate program is a major life change that can cause overwhelm, trigger symptoms of imposter syndrome, and leave a student feeling isolated. Generally, doctoral students who are also working professionals find it difficult to balance the demands of their program with the other demands in their life.

The disruption to life balance can quickly wear the doctoral student down if they are not equipped to deal with their rapid academic and personal growth. Change is uncomfortable, and when the discomfort is sustained over months and years, it can take the zest out of life if not properly managed.

Doctoral students attempting to meet all of their new academic challenges while fulfilling all of their current life/work obligations, coupled with angst over choosing a topic, conducting research, and writing a dissertation, often adopt a survival-mode thinking pattern. The survival-mode thinking pattern gets reinforced each time the student worries about how they are going to reach graduation.

If left unchecked, this constant worry about “the how” becomes so ingrained and difficult to bear that the student tries to repress the worry so they can just get on with their program. This bottling up the problem leads to isolation and distance in relationships. So, relationships that were once supportive no longer feel that way to the student. And worse, the relationships themselves can become threatened.

Eventually, the student gets used to the feeling of dread being there, just under the surface. And everything about their program and sometimes their life, in general, feels effortful. The student finds it difficult to imagine graduation and they become dangerously close to dropping out of their program.  This dread blocks the creativity needed to meet the dissertation research and writing challenges causing the student to struggle to produce quality work.

The problem

Clearly, not all doctoral students go down this path. Some students have an amazing educational experience. Others struggle for a bit and then find their footing. However, a lot of students struggle until they graduate or drop out. About half of doctoral students never graduate. The problem is most of us have not been taught the fundamental skill of managing our minds.

Managing one’s mind is not taught in primary and secondary school, or even in college. Few adults regularly practice mind management or teach their children this skill. Mind management is the skill of consciously directing the mind to make decisions that achieve defined objectives. By the time we reach adulthood, most of us live on autopilot, never questioning our thoughts, beliefs, and values or utilizing our minds to achieve our desires effectively and efficiently.

Coaching is the solution

Coaching is the solution for struggling doctoral students.

There are different types of coaching available to doctoral students.  A common type of coaching is dissertation coaching. Some students get dissertation coaching in the last stretch of their program. Dissertation coaching is geared toward writing the dissertation, not addressing waning motivation, burnout, and quality of life struggles. This form of coaching does not address the cause of the difficulty, it only addresses the actions to finish the dissertation.

Life coaching that uses a causal model, on the other hand, serves doctoral students who are struggling with motivation, burnout, and quality of life issues. Causal coaching addresses the reasons students struggle so the struggles can be resolved.

Doctoral students can engage in life coaching at any point in their program. Engaging in coaching at the beginning of the doctoral program gives students a strong foundation from which to build school-life balance, ensuring a positive educational experience. Engaging in coaching when the student needs assistance to resolve some difficulty can be the support that keeps the student from burning out, dropping out, or taking longer than planned to graduate. 

A life coach can help the doctoral student clarify their goals, identify obstacles holding them back, and identify the right strategies for overcoming each obstacle. Strategies are student-specific, based on personal skills, talents, and values. By helping doctoral students make the most of their strengths, a life coach provides the support needed to achieve long-lasting change.

If you are a struggling doctoral student or know someone who is, life coaching with a certified life coach can help.

Signs a doctoral student should consider working with a life coach

  • frequently irritable
  • inner self-talk is very negative
  • high levels of stress and/or anxiety
  • suffer from fear of failure that keeps you from reaching your goals
  • unable to break bad habits
  • lack fulfillment in your social life
  • persistent feelings of dissatisfaction at work or with school
  • creativity is blocked
  • stuck in self-destructive habits like overeating or overdrinking

Where doctoral students can get coaching

I coach EdD/PhD students who want to learn how to manage their mind to attain everything they want in life, including the easiest path to graduation.  

Check out the Work with me page to learn more about the group and 1-1 coaching services I offer.

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